Ah, the sounds of spring in the office. The rustling of e-mail being answered: Clackety-clickety-clackety-clack. The last of the water running through the coffee maker: Schwerp, schwerp-et, schwerp, schwerp-et. And of course, CLANGA CLANGA CLANGA CLANGA. That's the construction crew on the never-ending project next door.
OK, ready for something perhaps a little more soothing? Now you can travel the world by ear. Icons on a map (choose from Google maps or Free Earth) let you choose from dozens of crystal-clear recordings of natural sounds. Accompanying text provides details of what you're hearing, as well as recording data like date, time, and weather. For now, the recordings are mostly from the Western Hemisphere - though Old World offerings include the bells of Notre Dame, as well as chirps and rumbles from Africa and Madagascar.
Elsewhere, get dive-bombed by terns in Alaska or listen to songbirds on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Head south along the 111th meridian through the American West. Listen to idling trucks and murmured Spanish at a U.S.-Mexico border crossing. On your way to the Galapagos Islands, stop off in a Costa Rican rain forest to hear screeching parrots and braying howler monkeys.
Stalled by all the choices? Visit the host website, Wildsanctuary.com to listen to a stream of natural sounds on Internet radio, or sign up for a free podcast. If you stumble across that one recording of distant surf or a chattering bulbul that you just can't live without, I get the feeling the site's proprietors would be happy to sell you a complete downloadable album, iTunes-style. For the rest of us, the site is a great way to take a brief vacation.
The site seems to owe its recordings largely to musician-turned-ecologist Bernie Krause, who has made it his job to travel the world making stellar recordings of natural symphonies (he calls them "biophonies") - before the sound of the human race drowns them out. You may have read about Krause in the New York Times last year.